Toronto’s Waterfront Transit Reset planning has been underway since 2016, and most of the decisions about routing were settled by early 2018.
A major outstanding issue was the link from Queens Quay to Union Station. Three options were originally under consideration:
- Retaining the streetcar link with an expanded loop at Union to provide greater capacity and an underground junction at Queens Quay leading to the Waterfront East line.
- Replacing the streetcar operation am “automated people mover” (now “APM”, but originally called a “funicular”) using two linked trains, one in each tunnel, and an expanded station at Queens Quay. The APM trains would be linked by a cable that would move the cars, and they would have no on-board propulsion. When one train is at Queens Quay, the other would be at Union.
- Replacing the streetcar operation with a pedestrian walkway and moving sidewalk from Union to Queens Quay.
In the two latter schemes, the original idea was to keep the streetcars on the surface at Queens Quay with links down to a station below.
The walkway/moving sidewalk option was discarded early in the process because there was not enough room for a bidirectional ramp (akin to what used to be at Spadina Station) and walkway, and a unidirectional ramp would pose accessibility problems.
Two technologies remained – streetcar and automated people mover (APM) – for the tunnel with sub-options for the interchange between APM and streetcar.
Streetcar with expanded Union loop and Queens Quay Station (modified EA)
APM with streetcar below grade at Queens Quay / Bay
APM with streetcar at grade along Queens Quay
The design of a surface station at Queens Quay proved to be unworkable because of:
- the space that would be taken out of the street by track, platforms and vertical access to the station below,
- the volume of transfer traffic projected and its potential conflict with other activity for this location,
- the need for an outdoor transfer connection.
For both remaining schemes, an underground station would be required at Queens Quay although the design would vary depending on whether the streetcar or people mover option was selected for the Union link.
The two options were evaluated for various factors including user experience, overall network benefit, construction effects, and cost. On balance, the streetcar option won out, and the people mover option was not as simple and cheap as its proponents had thought. The one criterion on which the PM did rank better was construction difficulty.
This recommendation will go to Toronto’s Executive Committee, the TTC Board and Council in April along with reports on other major projects including SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension. How much attention the Waterfront will get in the midst of debates on larger projects remains to be seen, and of course there is always the problem that available funding falls far short of paying the bills for every project on the table.
Toronto talks a good line about “transit first” development, but never puts up real money. The waterfront is always a project for some indefinite future time, but not now. As a city, we love new buildings and crow over the number of cranes in the sky, but we assume that travel demands these buildings create will magically flow over the existing network. On a regional scale, this has delayed needed growth in GO Transit and the Relief subway line, and on a local scale it limits transit growth to a handful of very expensive subway extensions whose value is counted first in votes.
Development at a scale many parts of the GTA can only dream of will occur within a few kilometres of Union Station, and there is a great danger that transit will not be ready as buildings come on stream.
Demand for Travel to Queens Quay
The waterfront is part of a very strong growth pattern downtown, but the eastern waterfront is a “transit desert” where service is provided by the southern ends of several relatively infrequent routes (6 Bay, 75 Sherbourne, 72 Pape).
When the developments build out, there will be very strong demand from Union to Queens Quay in the peak period, especially from GO Transit with the greater flow headed east to new employment and educational sites.
A question often arises about the role of SmartTrack, GO/RER and the Relief subway line at the proposed East Harbour Station. That station will directly serve new development east of the Don River, but much of the eastern waterfront would still be a surface transit ride away assuming the planned connection south and west via Broadview and Commissioners is in place.
Union Station connects with more feeder routes including the Yonge-University subway and all GO services while East Harbour is served only by the part of the network. This leaves a great deal of the modeled demand at Union with substantial growth on the link to Queens Quay via Bay.
Peak hour flows are not the only consideration on Bay Street as the waterfront has many other uses, primarily recreational, with demand patterns different from the classic peak commuting traffic.
Proposed Station Designs
This legend is common to all of the station layouts below.
Union Station Streetcar Loop
The basic design for an expanded loop at Union Station has been around for a long time. The existing northbound and southbound tracks from the loop to roughly the south end of the rail viaduct would be twinned by adding new tunnels on either side of the existing structure. The four-track section would be long enough to accommodate two 30m cars with a double crossover between each berthing position.
Two operational modes are possible:
- Offload northbound, load southbound. In this scheme, the northbound berths would be used for offloading cars, and the crossover would allow cars to leapfrog each other. The southbound berths would be used for loading with one berth assigned to each route (waterfront east and west) and the crossovers used for cars to bypass each other. In this arrangement, the northbound double track is not, strictly, required as offloading activities are not route specific.
- Dedicate the northbound berths to one route (say Waterfront east) and the southbound berths to the other (west). In this scheme, the crossovers are not strictly required because only one route would serve the platforms on either side of the station, and they would run through “express” on the inner track to bypass the other route’s platform.
Each arrangement brings its own considerations about passenger flow in the walkways. Considerable room would be added for circulation and for waiting passengers, and there would be a direct link from the west side of the station to the new Bay Concourse in the railway station. Connections to other nearby buildings have not been finalized.
Designs of past decades included a third access route out to Bremner Boulevard through the basement of the Air Canada Centre (provision was made in that building’s structure for a future transit route). The Bremner line is not part of current plans, although it remains an option for the far future. Actually implementing such a route would encounter significant problems because of the existing traffic patterns on Bremner and the “Bentway” park that now occupies part of the proposed right-of-way.
Construction of the new loop is more complex than originally thought because it is not simply a matter of wrapping new walkways and track around the existing structure. The height of the current loop is not sufficient for fire code in the ability to ventilate the expanded station. This requires that the existing tunnel be “dug down” about 1.4 metres to provide added headroom.
Union Station People Mover
As with the streetcar option, the people mover would include an expanded area for circulation and waiting, although the planned service frequency with dedicated cars is short enough that waiting space should be less of a problem.
The cars would have door on both sides with loading in the “middle” (the area between the two tracks) and unloading on the “outside” allowing simultaneous loading and unloading. The terminus of the people mover would be in the space now occupied by utility rooms and a fire exit in the middle of the streetcar loop.
Whether the link would operate as part of the TTC network and be part of the “paid area”, or would be part of the PATH network, was not decided, and in any event the question is now moot with selection of the streetcar option.
Pedestrian Flows and Travel Times
The loop at Union is already badly congested with a platform too small to handle day-to-day demand, let alone the extra pressure of major events at the waterfront. Pedestrian flows were simulated for the revised station layouts, and congestion would not be an issue for either design.
Travel times to Queens Quay would change for short trips with the APM option because there would be more frequent departures from Union than with the streetcar service. However, for trips bound anywhere beyond Bay & Queens Quay, the addition of a transfer would lengthen journeys.
Queens Quay Station (Streetcar Option)
In the streetcar option, Queens Quay station is substantially expanded so that two cars can berth in each direction at the same time. This provide additional platform capacity and reduces potential problems with inbound service backing up into the junction just south of the platform.
The station would be extended to the north, and new underpasses would be provided both between the inbound and outbound platforms (replacing the existing pedestrian crosswalk over the tracks) and under Queens Quay to an exit near the south sidewalk primarily for the Ferry Docks.
Queens Quay Station (People Mover Option)
As with the streetcar, the people mover would require a longer station box and this includes provision for the mechanical system that drives the cable-hauled trains.
Streetcars would operate east-west under the Bay & Queens Quay intersection serving a new station. The circulation pattern for access to this would be an “across the platform transfer” only for trips to or from westbound streetcars. Passengers wishing to reach the eastbound platform would use an underpass below the streetcar tunnel. This underpass would also lead to the Ferry Docks as in the streetcar scheme.
The volume of transfer traffic here would be considerable with projected demands in thousands per hour. In turn that would require passageways and vertical circulation (stairs, escalators, elevators) capable of handling the pedestrian movements.
Queens Quay East Portal
In the original design for the Waterfront East LRT, the underground portion extended beyond Yonge Street and surfaced at Freeland, one block to the east. This design was required in part to avoid blocking access to the front of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.
A revised proposal shifts the portal to west of Yonge and includes the reorientation of the hotel’s entrance to its east face which now looks out on a parking area and the Yonge Street slip. The slip would be partly filled in to create a new plaza east of the hotel including a drop-off for taxis as well as for buses serving the Island Ferry.
This design is common to both options now under consideration.
Construction and Service Interruption on the Waterfront
The next study phase will consider how the selected option will be built including staging of the work and provision of replacement transit service.
The capacity of Bay Street during construction will be limited to one lane in each direction, and this will have significant effects of spilling traffic onto parallel routes under the rail corridor. At the same time there will be Metrolinx projects in the rail corridor itself, construction of new office towers on Bay, and the reconfiguration of Gardiner Expressway ramps.
Pedestrian volumes around Union Station are very large, and provision for these must be included in the allocation of available sidewalk and road space during construction. Whether any capacity will be left for auto traffic remains to be seen. Transit downtown generally will be affected and Toronto’s notorious laissez-faire attitude to traffic management simply will not do.
A major area in Toronto faces a long interruption of service thanks to the scale of construction needed at Union and Queens Quay stations, and there is no guarantee that work on this key link will get underway soon. The longer we wait, the greater the unmet demand and the effect of a multi-year closure of the Bay Street link on transit access to the waterfront.
Note: The illustrations in this article are excerpts from the presentation slide deck and boards for a public meeting that took place on March 4, 2019. Electronic versions of the full set will be posted on the project’s website soon.